At today’s Mass, we hear one of my favorite Gospel stories: Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. I am grateful to US Catholic for inviting me to share a personal meditation on this reading as part of their Sunday Reflections series.
Imagine that, one late July afternoon, while driving down Highway 20 outside Galena, Illinois, you stop at the scenic overlook rather than passing it by.
Suppose you admire the pastures, rolling hills, small patches of forest; you inhale the smells of thousands of plants that are as nameless to you as to those who first met them.
Maybe you’ll lock your red Saab’s doors, fumble in high-heeled sandals down the path, gaze up to cumulus clouds against a blue backdrop, take note of birds with black bodies, yellow wings.
At the bottom of the slope a stagnant pond waits. Green algae cover half of it; a turtle suns itself on a log. You don’t know why it’s calling you, but suppose you listen, entranced, until startled from your
reverie by the arrival of a man. Suppose he starts to talk to you, says he’s thirsty, asks for a sip from your water bottle, and you instinctively back away, but something in his eyes says wait, don’t worry,
I’m different. You already saw him at the top of the hill, easel before him, painting the scene. Now he stands beside you, plaid t-shirt covered in watercolors, and he tells you he knows you’ve been through
five bad breakups, that you’ve cheated and deceived, that you claim to like your freedom but still aren’t happy. Suppose right then he says it: “Come, follow me, I’ll give you living water,” and all of a sudden
you know the names of each plant, each blade of grass, each cloud that forms and breaks. Astonished, you thank him and ask if he’ll be back there tomorrow, and he says yes, and you promise to bring others
to meet him. Imagine that you step back to your car, now knowing that it is possible to make each act a prayer: the cleaning of drains, the paying of bills, the making of phone calls and amends. You are
confident that even in the midst of dark November you will find in yourself this place where ferns touch briers, where this artist shows you his face. Imagine how you’ll feel, come January, when you recall
that beneath the most solid ice, living water still flows.
I wrote this poem in the summer of 2018. It’s not a time I look back on fondly. Have you ever found yourself so ensnared in the trap of your own bad decisions that amid your pain you found yourself laughing: oh, have I gone and done it this time!
In 2018, I felt like that Samaritan woman at the well. While she was marginalized due to the systemic discrimination that Samaritans faced, I was marginalized by my own bad choices. But even if I was isolated from God, God refused to remain isolated from me.
“Give me a drink,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman. In various ways, he said the same to me. He said it through Magdalena, a young Guatemalan woman in my community who needed a guardian to apply for legal status in the US. He said it through my friend Jayme, who’d lost his housing and needed a place to stay. He said it through my students, who of course needed help on their essays but also, in some cases, the listening ear of an adult who cared. As summer dried up into fall all these people came to me, thirsty. But none were as thirsty as me. Through them, Jesus gave me that living water.
He gave it through Magdalena, who became a surrogate daughter, allowing me the chance to beam with pride as she crossed the stage, the first in her family to get a high school diploma. He gave it through Jayme, who covered my living room with Marvel action figures and made me laugh and listened compassionately to my stories. He gave it through my student Riva, a business major who sat in the front of my literature class and participated excitedly in every discussion, who later showed me poetry she’d written about her own personal struggles. And that is why, like that Samaritan woman, I say to you today: Come, meet this man. Can this be the Christ? No matter who you are or what your story is, he offers the living water we all are thirsting for.
I wish you peace and renewal on your own Lenten journeys.